Review by WolfUrameshi

"An interesting experiment that ultimately succeeds"

After years of hard laboring, experimenting and hair-pulling, Square-Enix finally releases its latest cinema-quality gem, Final Fantasy XIII.

The latest Square RPG explores new themes and ideas, stripping Final Fantasy of typical ideas and cliches commonly seen in the games in favor of a sense of urgency, such as shops, towns and the now dreaded and despised random encounters. The game features a rag-tag group made of seemingly ordinary people with their own personal goals and ideas: Lightning wants to rescue her sister Serah. Sazh is in it to protect someone dear to him. Fang and Vanille have their own agenda. Hope was sadly drawn into this conflict by accident. Snow will protect Cocoon no matter what happens. This different kind of storytelling makes this the most mature entry in the series in the plot department. The biggest departures, however, are the Crystarium-basically an enhanced and simplified version of the Sphere Grid system from Final Fantasy X- and a completely new ATB-based Battle System known as Command Synergy Battle. Another new departure is the absence of Nobuo Uematsu as series composer- and with it many iconic Final Fantasy themes and ideas, like the legendary Victory Fanfare and the main theme. Even with all these, is the game truly up to the hype?

Graphics: 8.5/10

Firstly, I will admit something: I am not a PS3 owner, therefore I have the 360 copy. Even with that, the visuals are absolutely stunning. The seams in the character's clothes, the clear, shaking water, the whirring machinery, the crackling thunder... everything graphically speaking is intense in this game. I really do not have a lot to say about the game's graphics except that there is some slight slowdown sometimes in Disc 3 (this would be when you arrived at Archylte Steppe for PS3 owners. The fog in a certain area will cause slowdown at times.) Sadly the downside is that the cinematic pre-rendered sequences are generic, even bordering on Kingdom Hearts 2 quality. They just look a bit better than most but I definitely did not feel as pumped as, say, Final Fantasy XII- especially its ending which is among the most stunning I have seen, or even Final Fantasy X's notorious Suteki Da Ne scene. Nitpicks aside, the normal game scenes, the summoning sequences and most of the bosses will make you say, "What an incredible graphic system!"

Sound: 8/10

I am sadly at odds with the sound in this game. At times it's... perfect. Like it fits the game like the palm of its hand. The battle themes? Absolutely gorgeous. Some of the character themes and background music? It's okay. The rest? Not so much. I just hate some of the music- it sounds more like it was taken out of a mature HBO movie broadcast at night, especially the ones with vocals. But this is just for background music in some areas. The battle themes are among the most hyping and lyrically beautiful I have heard- one quality Uematsu's music did not have in his last couple of games. Blinded by Light (the normal battle theme)'s violins and percussion offer a riveting composition accompanied by wonderful bass and minimal electric guitar. Is having Masashi Hamauzu as a composer rather than Uematsu really that bad? I wonder about that. The music is great, really. It just has several kinks to work out. And for the record, replacing the Japanese ending theme with this random girl I care not about? Huge mistake.

Gameplay: 10/10

This is the aspect of the game everyone loves- and so do I. The game's trademark Crystal Tools program has become a staple of the series now- it is the best battle system I've seen in a while. Yes, it usually involves mashing the Action button and letting the game play itself out with automatic commands, but you actually do strategy. That never happens in most RPG's- and no, Persona does not count in this case. The game consists on a system based on a concept known as Paradigms, or "jobs" for characters. You set these for each character, assigning roles to each. And depending on the enemy, you get to switch job sets for the characters on the fly. You get the idea. It sounds complicated by mouth, but works wonders in execution. Another new feature is the Crystarium- a drastic improvement over the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X. First, characters have their own Crystariums and learn their own abilities in time- no more searching in your party's grid's for abilities and stat bonuses. And second, it's very simple to use. Your experience in the game are CP, or Crystarium Points. You use them on it to level up. That's all there is to it. Overall, the gameplay is the stellar aspect of the game- and the main reason you should play it. The drawback is that the battles are insanely difficult, making you restart (luckily with no penalty) many times, and you may never run from any battles under any circumstances. But this just makes it fun, doesn't it?

Story: 9/10

This is most probably the key area of the game people will have their doubts with. Either you like it or you hate it. The only real fact about the plot is that it starts out extremely slow and shallow, bordering on generic. Plus it takes a little time until you see it kick into high gear- and I mean in about ten hours or so. However, once you see it in action, you will see a cleverly spun tale of distress, desperation, loss and regret. Each character has their own concerns, regrets, fears and challenges they must face in the end. In my case, I will admit this is the game with the most captivating characters I've seen- especially Sazh Katzroy. I must also applaud Square-Enix wholeheartedly for finally stopping the recycled badass-themed character fad that has haunted us all for a long time: stereotypes created by past entries have been forgone in exchange for a new type of character gaming very much needed. The game's characters are for once (with the exceptions of Hope and Vanille) mature, grown and likeable people. They take actions and face the consequences. They go through situations not explored in recent entries. They have a lot more at stake on a personal level than the other entries' typical world destruction subject. They are afraid of their fate. They fear the tomorrow. They grow and defeat these stigmas and take control of their destiny. Those around them, their ties, become involved in a situation not of their own choosing. They conflict. This is what we have been waiting for. Perhaps it's not the best story ever created, but it's a start in the right direction- and the beginning of true maturity for the series. More mature people, please!

Content and replay value: 9/10

I am not sure if there will be any downloadable content- that's what the box says. But there really isn't much to say about it in this game.

Overall: 9/10

Final Fantasy XIII is hardly the epiphany of revolution people hailed it as. The plot has some ticks to be worked out, the music choices sometimes are unbearable and the difficulty needs to be toned down. However, it is still a memorable start and the best RPG experience available at the moment of this writing. As a longtime RPG fan, I am happy to announce that this game should absolutely be in your collection, regardless of its flaws. Strongly recommended and a masterpiece to be remembered. Thanks for reading.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/23/10

Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII (US, 03/09/10)

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